Just because you didn’t see it, that doesn’t mean it never happened

Chink in armor

By Jae-Ha Kim
January 19, 2013

This past summer, my son and I were leaving the local swimming pool. As we left, I saw a group of teenaged boys sitting on a low wall. I got a bad feeling. I held my little boy’s hand tightly as we walked past them. At that moment, the leader ching chonged us and his friends started laughing.

Within a few seconds, all kinds of thoughts flashed through my head: Being called a chink by middle school kids when I was a kindergartner. Being called a “chink bitch” and shoved onto a muddy sidewalk by older boys who were hall monitors at my elementary school. Being called a dirty chink by a much older girl in my gymnastics class who would threaten to beat me up.

But the thought that was most vivid was one of my father, who was waiting for me outside our local library. There was a little boy sitting nervously on his bicycle as my dad talked to him. The boy had called my father a chink, and my father was calmly explaining that it wasn’t a nice thing to say, and that his parents would be disappointed to hear him say that to an adult. (Who’re we kidding? We all know that this kid probably learned to be a racist at home. But my father was giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

The boy apologized and said he wouldn’t do it again. As he pedaled off on his bicycle, he turned around and screamed, “You fucking chink! Go back to your fucking country! I hate you! I hope all you chinks die!”

I was livid and embarrassed for my father and, to a lesser extent, for myself. I couldn’t believe that anyone would say that to a grownup, much less to my dad. We couldn’t even say the word “hate” in our household. My father just smiled and said, “I feel sorry for him. He has to live with all that anger. He’s not a very smart boy.” And then we went home.

So, now here I am, being ching chonged at about the same age my father was, and I’m feeling a combination of fear, anger, embarrassment and surprise. I could keep on walking or confront the kids. During that moment of hesitation, my four-year-old son asked me, “Why are they saying that to us?”

I turned around, walked back to where they were sitting and still laughing. To the leader, I said, “Fuck you. Watch your mouth. You’ve got ethnic friends.” They all stopped laughing and looked a little stunned. I’m not sure if they were shocked that I spoke English, or that I had just sworn at them. It didn’t matter. Pointing to his friends—two of whom were Hispanic—I said, “If he’s saying this to me, what do you think he’s saying behind your backs?”

And, to my surprise, the kid apologized.

As my son and I walked to the parking lot, I turned around a few times to make sure they weren’t following us. I was half expecting them to start laughing and make more nonsensical noises at us. But they remained mute, with their heads hung down low. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have dropped the F bomb in front of children. I’m not proud of that particular word choice.

My mother tells me that things will be better for my son when he goes to elementary school, because there’s more diversity, compared to my childhood days. And, she points out that none of us were subjected to prejudice when we were growing up. She never knew what happened at school, because I never told her. It wasn’t until recently that I said that we did face prejudice. Not every day, but certainly enough days so that we’d remember them.

Last year around this time, I wrote an article about Jeremy Lin and what he means to Asian Americans in general and to my son in particular. After the piece ran in the Chicago Tribune, there were numerous comments alleging that I had made things up or exaggerated, or that they had an Asian friend when they were in school and never saw any of the things I had described.

Just because you didn’t see it, that doesn’t mean it never happened.


© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (37)

  1. lostintrafficlights says:

    ): *hug*

  2. nomethodjustmadness says:

    Your response to those kids was well deserved.

  3. Christina says:

    I would’ve done the same thing. No doubt in my mind… Possibly worse than just drop the F bomb. Kudos.

  4. Steven says:

    I wish i could be like your Dad, but both of you sound effective in your own way.

  5. Mike says:

    I cringed at your subject post. I read it again & cringed again. I didn’t want to read the whole story. I read it and cringed & cringed. I feel bad for your late dad. I like what you did. I think the F-bomb helped. I grew up in an all-white area and my parents taught respect, not racism.

  6. Harriet says:

    Totally made me cry. Why are people such jerks? Glad you pulled out the F guns.

  7. Mr Vince says:

    I don’t think I should say how I dealt with racist kids when I was at school ….

  8. KC says:

    I adore you!!!

  9. chipmnk says:

    I think your response was perfectly fine, cursing and all.

  10. Roy says:

    I felt the same way when someone would do that to my father. I bet you felt more rage when they did it to your dad then when it happened to you. Means you’re a good person.

  11. Well done for telling that little shit how you felt. Your son will always remember he has a strong mommy ^^

  12. Saying Fuck you to kids. I can’t get down with that.

    • mamalogues says:

      I think she handled it well, f-bomb included. Sometimes a harsh word choice is the slap in the face some punk kid needs to listen to the rest of the message. Everyone is discriminated against – I didn’t appreciate fat jokes as a young girl and it totally messed with my self image. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone disrespect me, especially in front of my kid. You little punks have been warned.

    • Marissa says:

      Yes, because kids who ching chong moms and their preschool children deserve such respect. Let’s not swear at the precious angels, because I’m sure they never use the F-word.

    • Peter Lawrence says:

      Why? These were teenagers. I can only guess the words they use if they would use such vulgar words to a mom and her child. There’s a time for everything. Make racial comments about me and my children and you deserve a well-placed “fuck you” every single time. Don’t want adults to swear at you? Don’t spew hate towards their children.

      Did you not read Jae’s article? She said that she was fearful as she was leaving them. No woman should ever have to fear “children” in a public setting like this. I wish I had been there to witness this. I would’ve called the police on these little “children”.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    You handled that very well.

  14. Jimin says:

  15. Dave says:
  16. Jared James says:
  17. Jae-Ha Kim says:

    From my sister:

    Oh my goodness that writing is so powerful. I remember sitting at the butcher’s with mother. Young boys slanted their eyes with their fingers, bowed to mother, snickering and said, “ah sooo.” I was 11. I knew that mother (and I) were being made fun of. Mother bowed back and said, “ah soo,” turned to me and said, “…very respectful boys.” I wondered if she really believed it or if she was trying to protect me. The boys laughed and walked away!

  18. peaceshannon says:

    Reprinted with permission from peaceshannon. Click on her name above to check out her fantastic Tumblr blog:

    as a korean adoptee, i got ching chonged all the time. got told to go back where i came from (but how the fuck did i know where i came from??) and had eyes pulled back at a slant or asked why my eyes weren’t open when of course they were. but as an adoptee, i had no mother or father who would understand, be able to defend me. actually, i felt like i had to protect my parents from knowing this happened to me. also, it was humiliating to admit. if i told someone, it felt like i was validating the opinion that i was less of a person. since of course my white brothers and sisters would have no reason to be subjected to this kind of taunting. in fact, they looked like the people who were subjecting me to the taunting. if i had a reason to be subjected to it, i was clearly inferior in some way. and i had no adult role model to show me otherwise. when i got older the ching chongs turned into “5 dolla me love you long time” and earnest proclamations that asians were hot, sometimes accompanied with questions about whether my vagina was really tight or sideways. with no female role models, i internalized the fetishization of asian women we see in american media. i dressed as charlie’s angels with two of my white girlfriends for halloween. i laughed it off when casual acquaintances called me mulan or miss saigon. i tried to ignore the dirty feeling when men of all races and ages looked at me as if i were a doll or a porn star. or the ones who catcalled or made obscene gestures at me. or even the ones who just “politely” greeted me in japanese or chinese or asked me where i was from, no where i was really from. i quieted the voice inside my head that suggested that even the most liberal of my white boyfriends had also internalized the exotic asian woman image. but who was i kidding?? if i couldn’t escape it, how could they? being in korea has finally released me from all of it. from all of the pretending it didn’t happen, pretending not to see or not to care. pretending not to know.

  19. arari says:

    Different situation, same experience.

  20. Sarah says:

    Jae! Your blog from the other day is spreading all over social media-it was very powerful.

  21. irato says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in an area where there are a lot of people from countries all over Asia, so this kind of racism doesn’t run rampant here. I’ve never experienced people laughing at me for being Korean and the most racist jokes were made lightheartedly- and amongst other Asians as well. Because of this kind of sheltered life, I was ignorant of the racial prejudices still present in the world today for most of my life.


    doesn’t mean it’s not fucked up

    I’ll keep this story in mind if I ever encounter this shit

  22. Mike Kessler says:

    Years ago I interviewed comic Ron Mok of “Stir-Friday Night” and some of his quotes were: “I remember growing up in Evanston and being the only Asian in my grade school.”…”I felt alienated that no other nationalities wanted to mix or associate with my ethnicity.” I can’t remember the years he meant or when he was born.

  23. Desmond Epsomsalt says:

    Fantastic execution.

  24. Siobhan Murphy-Elias says:

    I didn’t know you could write in English without actually speaking English!!! HA!

  25. Carolyn says:

    This is great. YOU ROCK!

    Our son was adopted almost a year ago at age 13.99999 from China. He learned some bad words in Spanish in his ESL class (but of course!!!), so we explained to him why those words are bad… He also switches his g and k sounds and with his accent he can’t say l, so the word nickel sounds like you guessed it, the N word….. Awesome @@. Don’t want someone getting butthurt over a kid with a congential speech impediment + accent @@. We also had to explain to him that he might hear the word “chink” at school and that it is an insult. He did not understand. I hope he doesn’t have to. We exist (we are Caucasian) in an Asian bubble in our community. He’ll be a freshman at a school with a large Vietnamese population next year… a Chinese orphan with 2 fat very NON Asian parents. I wonder what will happen when he gets out of that Asian bubble though. In middle school he understood almost ZERO English and had some groupies thanks to the Sci Fi show “Firefly” since they spoke Mandarin.

  26. hp says:

    Hi there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this website.

  27. I feel like we are living in a time of increased racism. I’m saddened because of this. Hate is a driving tool by many politicians these days;(

  28. Dave Owens says:

    One of my friends experienced something like this and his response when it happened to him was, “I’m not a chink, you moron. I’m Korean. If you’re going to be a racist asshole, you could at least get it right and call me a gook.”

    I really wish I could’ve been there to see the guy’s reaction.

    • Pat Lewis says:

      This seems like a good idea, but now the racist moron has another slur to use. My cousin said that the point of these slurs is to dehumanize people.

  29. Nancie S. Martin says:

    Sorry this happened to you, Jae. All I usually have to worry about at a pool is a sunburn. But you turned it into an excellent piece.

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